8 April | 4 min read | Image by Halfpoint on Shutterstock
When I was at university, being an environmental activist was such a central part of my identity that I was nicknamed Captain Planet.
The belief system I had was that polluters and exploiters cared more about money than the harm they were doing, and the average citizen cared more about an easy life than taking a stand, changing their behaviour, going to a protest or learning about the issue.
Eventually, I gave up being an activist, because it felt as though nothing I was doing was working. Trying to live a low-carbon lifestyle, protesting, encouraging people to save energy, signing petitions — none of it seemed to be making one iota of difference to the unrelenting increase in carbon emissions.
What I wanted was a world in which we cared for each other and the Earth. My unquestioned assumption was that the way to do that was to defeat the bad guys who were doing all the harm.
I was trying to use anger, shame and guilt to make people more caring.
I think this is relevant to write about now, because I see this mentality so much in the way people approach issues such as sexism, racism, xenophobia and homophobia.
Here are 10 ways I think my mentality was making things worse.
I really hated the climate sceptics, the fossil-fuel lobby and anyone who was opposing action, because they were a threat to our future.
I wanted to achieve harmony through hatred.
How was that going to work?
I felt really alone in my activism. We were such a minority. The majority seemed apathetically complicit in the violence of the system.
How was I going to achieve harmony if I felt so separate? Connection was what was needed.
The upside of no one else caring or being interested was that I felt exceedingly morally superior. I knew more about the solutions, had better solutions, and was taking more action than most people. So I felt above them.
Of course, this made me feel even more alone.
4) Creating gridlock
Have you noticed what happens when you have a disagreement with someone and you insist that you are right and they are wrong? It creates an impasse. Both sides dig their heels in. How was I hoping to change things through gridlock?
5) Diverting attention from solutions
Gridlock meant we weren’t actually moving forward with healing the planet. It was continuing to get worse during all the bickering.
6) Increasing the possibility of violence
What do you do when someone digs their heels in? Raise your voice? Attack them verbally? Maybe even physically?
When the struggle has become about one trying to overpower the other, things get nasty quickly. Just look at your Twitter feed.
7) Violence against myself
I was not paying attention to what would make me feel good. What I should do to save the planet was more important.
8) Focusing on what we didn’t want
‘Stop climate chaos’, ‘Carbon zero now’ — I was putting a lot of energy into opposing what was happening, and very little into imagining a compelling alternative.
9) Making environmentalism very unappealing
‘You know how you love going somewhere warm on holiday, you need a car to get about and your favourite food is steak? All those things are wrong, and you shouldn’t do them.
Right, who’d like to sign up to saving the planet?
10) Reinforcing the myth of separation
To believe it’s in your interest to exploit people and planet, you’ve got to believe they’re separate from you. If you judge people for not caring, you’re believing the same thing.
The mindset I try to live from now is one that sees the interconnection between me and the world: that my wellbeing is interdependent with everyone and everything else.
So, instead of needing to change other people, I seek to connect with them and understand them more.
In my work as a coach, if I slip into trying to fix my client, I can sense the disconnection that happens, the disempowerment in them and the lack of potency in the session. It also starts to feel like much harder work!
But I don’t want to fall into the trap of judging myself for being judgmental. By throwing myself headlong into that world, I learned so much, and it’s really made me who I am today. It also makes me feel empathetic when I see other people being angry, judgmental and trying to change people. It just really doesn’t work.
29 March | 3 min read | Image by fran_kie on Shutterstock
Fear is one of the major causes of suffering for we humans. It can keep us awake at night, ruin our relationships, make us addicted to our devices, distract us from pleasurable experiences, stop us making decisions, work too much and just generally feel unhappy – even miserable.
Clearly, being able to deal with fear is a major life skill, and one of the many that ought to be taught in school, but isn’t.
Here are three steps to help you let go of fear:
Step 1: Name it
One very simple way to reduce fear is simply to name it: to write it down and – even better – tell someone about it.
As Yoda said, ‘Named must your fear be before banish it you can.’
I’ve been working with a client who was so fearful that he was having intense nightmares and having to change his clothes twice during the night, because he was sweating so much. He’d wake up feeling exhausted and anxious.
Until we spoke about it in our session, he had never articulated the specific thing that he was afraid of.
I could tell that just putting it into words led to a little bit of a release.
What was immediately apparent was that he was convinced that this fear was something that was definitely going to happen.
It can also be very helpful to name the sensations you are experiencing in your body, such as a tight chest or butterflies in your belly.
Step 2: Is it true?
The next step after you have identified the fear is to ask, ‘Is this definitely true?’ The fact is, the vast majority of the time, we’re safe and our fears are imaginary.
As Mark Twain said, ‘I am an old man and have known many troubles, but most of them never happened.’
One way of playing with this is to keep asking, ‘And then what will happen?’
For example, I was feeling anxious that no one would sign up to my course. My friend asked me:
‘And then what will happen?’
‘I’ll lose confidence.’
‘And then what will happen?’
‘I’ll give up teaching mindfulness.’
‘And then what will happen?’
‘I’ll get a job as an estate agent.’
‘And then what will happen?’
I’ll feel depressed, my fiance will leave me and I’ll die alone under a bridge.
Most fears seem to come down to death and abandonment!
It became ridiculous when I played it out, and the absurdity took the power out of it. But when it was just a vague sense of impending doom in my mind, it was much more difficult to deal with.
That client is now also experiencing much less anxiety and fewer nightmares since we talked through exactly what the fears were.
Step 3: What if the opposite were true?
What if I sold out the workshop? What if you asked her out and she said yes? What if your new business were successful? What if Covid doesn’t cause your holiday to be cancelled?
It can help to imagine what you’ll do, say and feel when the positive outcome happens. My mum has always said that anxiety is praying for what you don’t want to happen, so how about focusing on what you do want?
This is a process you can go through on your own, but it’s much more powerful to do it with a partner. You can bring your issue to them or, if someone tells you they’re anxious, you could ask them if they’re willing to try going through the steps with you.
If you’d like me to support you in dealing with fear, you can book a free consultation here.
8 March | 4 min read
Going to an all-boys school, joining the hockey team at uni and watching Hollywood movies gave me a very clear idea of how men are supposed to behave. This included:
- Drinking vast quantities of alcohol, quickly.
- Sleeping with as many women as possible.
- Making as much money as possible.
- Owning a big, fast car.
- Only showing two emotions: anger and lust. Never showing vulnerability or crying.
- Being good at sport.
- Being physically big and strong (with a large penis, of course).
- Never showing any verbal or physical affection towards another man, and telling your friends you like them by mocking them.
Most of these things aren’t intrinsically bad. It’s fine to like cars, money and sex. But being made to feel like this is the only way to be is what’s damaging and limiting. It makes people feel inferior or even ashamed when they’re not like that.
I had an allergic reaction to all of this. I hated it. As I think most men do, if they’re being really honest.
Apart from anything else, it just didn’t make sense to me. It’s not conducive to happiness.
Through my work, I’ve ended up coaching people – both men and women – in corporate, macho cultures, where people are competitive, aggressive and don’t show any vulnerability.
I’ve wondered whether maybe, in these places, it does pay to act like that.
We tested it. Through the coaching, I supported them to be more willing to feel and express their emotions, and be kinder to themselves and their colleagues. Less competitive and more cooperative. Less directive and more supportive and able to listen.
The result – every time – has been that they performed better in their role, got more out of their colleagues and felt happier. Sometimes, quite severe symptoms of stress and anxiety lifted completely.
The old machismo doesn’t work.
It leads to poor mental health, poor relationships and poor performance.
Perhaps the most easily identifiable example of this is Donald Trump. Although I have written about how I understand why people voted for him, to me he’s a caricature of an outdated form of machismo, and it made him a terrible president and a terrible role model.
These experiences and observations have contributed to me suppressing my own masculinity.
What I’m starting to explore now is healthier ways to express it. I’m very much at the beginning of this journey, but I feel excited about how it will help me to be more fully myself, and to understand how we can undo the damage caused by patriarchy and toxic masculinity.
Yesterday, I came across ManKind Project's Vision of Mature Masculinity. I love it, and I know it is going to form part of my redefining of what it means for me to be a man. I want to share it with you:
The New Macho
He cleans up after himself.
He cleans up the planet.
He is a role model for young men.
He is rigorously honest and fiercely optimistic.
He holds himself accountable.
He knows what he feels.
He knows how to cry and he lets it go.
He knows how to rage without hurting others.
He knows how to fear and how to keep moving.
He seeks self-mastery.
He’s let go of childish shame.
He feels guilty when he’s done something wrong.
He is kind to men, kind to women, kind to children.
He teaches others how to be kind.
He says he’s sorry.
He stopped blaming women or his parents or men for his pain years ago.
He stopped letting his defences ruin his relationships.
He stopped letting his penis run his life.
He has enough self-respect to tell the truth.
He creates intimacy and trust with his actions.
He has men that he trusts and that he turns to for support.
He knows how to roll with it.
He knows how to make it happen.
He is disciplined when he needs to be.
He is flexible when he needs to be.
He knows how to listen from the core of his being.
He’s not afraid to get dirty.
He’s ready to confront his own limitations.
He has high expectations for himself and for those he connects with.
He looks for ways to serve others.
He knows he is an individual.
He knows that we are all one.
He knows he is an animal and a part of nature.
He knows his spirit and his connection to something greater.
He knows future generations are watching his actions.
He builds communities where people are respected and valued.
He takes responsibility for himself.
In times of need, he will be his brother’s keeper.
He knows his higher purpose.
He loves with fierceness.
He laughs with abandon, because he gets the joke.
What do you think?
Could you forgive your son’s killer?
Dec 7 | 3 min read
Today I’m sharing three stories of forgiveness that blew my mind.
Imagine you’ve made a video about an issue you really care about. You’ve spent hours producing it and you feel vulnerable about telling the world what you think, but you also feel proud of what you’ve created.
You then post it online and someone comments underneath it, ‘You’re a piece of shit.’
How would you react?
This didn’t happen to me, it happened to the actor, writer and activist Dylan Marron.
Would you be upset? Angry? Maybe just ignore it?
I bet what you wouldn’t do is call up the person who wrote it, ask them how they are (in a really friendly voice) and then enquire as to why they wrote it – with a genuine curiosity to find out.
This is what Dylan does is his podcast series, ‘Conversations with people who hate me.’
I found it completely intriguing, inspiring and captivating listening.
The conversations follow a similar pattern. They start with the person retracting the insult and admitting they got a bit carried away, before explaining what it was about what Dylan said that they disagreed with.
By the end of the conversations, they have seen each other as humans rather than two usernames attacking each other on the internet, and have usually genuinely bonded.
Now, imagine that you are a 10-year-old black kid taking part in a Scout parade and white people start throwing stones at you. When you get home your mum explains that some people hate you just because of the colour of your skin.
Isn’t it quite likely you would start to fear and hate white people?
What you probably wouldn’t do is spend years reading all the books you could on racism and white supremacy in an attempt to understand why people might hate you for being black.
What you almost certainly wouldn’t do, is arrange to meet one of the leaders of the KKK so that you could ask him questions about his beliefs, invite him back to your house for dinner, befriend him and start to attend KKK rallies so you could understand them better.
That is what musician Darly Davis did. He tells the story in his TEDx talk. It ends with the leader leaving the KKK and giving Daryl his Klan robe.
I found this awe-inspiring.
If your son had been murdered, would you be willing to meet the man who did it while he was in prison and ask him why? Would knowing that he was just doing it to be part of a gang make you more or less angry?
When he got out of prison, would you support him in getting a degree and a job so that he can make something of this life? That is what David and Joan did. You can listen to the story in the Radio 4 series ‘The Punch’. It moved me to tears several times.
Our media is full of people being shamed for their behaviour, and so rarely are there stories that really seek to understand why someone did something awful.
To my mind, this leads to a culture in which we think some people are just ‘bad’ or ‘evil’. It leads to a barbaric criminal justice system that throws people in jail to rot, without considering what led them to commit their crime. It means we end up with leaders like Donald Trump, who are willing to subject themselves to the shaming media because they are shameless. A more sensitive human wouldn’t be able to take it.
What’s incredibly inspiring to me about all of the people I have mentioned is that even when someone has verbally or physically abused them, even when someone has murdered their son, they chose not to write the perpetrators off. They stood firm in their belief that this is another human being who deserves understanding and forgiveness.
I’m sharing these stories with you because, when I heard them, they deeply inspired me. They showed me that ordinary people are capable of extraordinary acts of forgiveness that can transcend all the shaming and trolling that consumes so much of our social and national media.
And, hopefully, knowing that someone else has done it makes it seem a lot more possible that you or I could do it too.
Making sense of Trump voters
Nov 20 | 5 min read
To people who hate Trump, this election result might have felt like a relief. The good guys won. But, as has been pointed out several times, this was not the rejection of Trumpism that many were hoping for.
He got more votes than last time, and those 71 million people aren’t going anywhere just because Biden won. Also, 70% of them believe it was not a free and fair election. That is a lot of people to have lost faith in the democratic process.
What interests me most about the US election is the level of polarisation, and the questioning of what is ‘truth’.
When the Brexit vote happened, there was a lot of talk about echo chambers. People in my social circles were sure Remain would win, because they didn’t know anyone who was planning to vote Leave and they couldn’t understand why anyone would.
It was widely believed that the Leave arguments were all based on lies and racism.
And it’s the same in the US election. People who support Biden, for the most part, have no idea how anyone could possibly support Trump, unless they are stupid, insane or evil.
As one of my friends put it on social media:
‘I mean, really, if this many Americans are still voting for someone that literally the whole world can see is an incompetent, racist, misogynist, corrupt, tax-avoiding, narcissistic liar with blatant dictatorial ambitions — in the middle of a pandemic and a recession — then there is genuinely no hope.’
However, Trump voters are also convinced that most, if not all, of these criticisms are true about Biden.
He is accused by Trump and his supporters of being senile and therefore incompetent; supporting anti-black legislation; sexual assault; corruption over his business ties with Ukraine; avoiding paying taxes; and being a pathological liar.
Also, just as Trump is arguing that this election has been rigged, the Democrats spent huge resources on arguing that the Russians had interfered with the 2016 presidential election and that Trump’s win was not legitimate.
To Trump supporters, their views are just as ‘obviously true’ as the Biden supporters believe theirs are.
So what’s really going on here?
How can we move forward if we can’t even agree on basic facts like who won the most votes?
Trump-voter hating is lazy
Personally, I think it’s lazy to think that if someone has a different view to you, there must be something wrong with them. We need to make more effort to understand the people on the other side of the debate — although it’s not really a debate anymore, it’s a shouting match!
What both Brexit and Trump voters seem to have in common is wanting to stick two fingers up to the establishment. Why? Because the system isn’t working for them and they are angry. They want someone to blame and someone to restore their faith in their country.
Death of the American Dream
A big part of the ‘American Dream’ is the idea that any individual can be successful if they work hard. Increasingly, that is no longer true — if it ever was.
The ratio between median household income and median house prices was 1.9 in 1970. It is now 4.1. In California, it’s 9.6.
During the same time period, wages have not kept pace and inequality has increased. The income of the top 1% has grown five times as fast as that of the bottom 90%.
Adjusted for inflation, the average cost of a university degree in the US has increased 161% since 1987, from $39,643 to $103,616. The average student now graduates with $29,800 of debt. For law students, it’s close to $150,000.
A recent analysis by the Center for Household Financial Stability at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis found that millennials have 34% less wealth than would have been predicted based on the experience of earlier generations.
There are a lot of young people living with their parents, saddled with debt, with no hope of buying a house and setting up a home for their family. It’s the same story in this country.
This isn’t just about economics, it’s about people losing faith in the myth that underpins their whole identity, and their sense of belonging, progress and meaning.
Not only does Trump channel their anger at the people they perceive to be to blame — corrupt politicians, rich financiers, a dishonest media and immigrants — he also promises to restore their faith in the country: to use the fact that he’s an outsider and a supposedly successful businessman to put things right.
I believe this also goes a long way to explaining why there are so many conspiracy theories around at the moment. It seems like some elite group of people are running things for their own advantage, at the expense of the majority.
Our civilisation needs a new mythology
As I’ve written previously, I think what’s really going on is even more fundamental than the breakdown of the American Dream: the myth at the core of our view of reality is becoming intolerable.
Philosopher Charles Eisenstein calls it the ‘Story of Separation’. In this story, we are all separate minds encased in flesh, in a world of separate competing individuals, all acting in their own economic and genetic self-interest, in a dead universe.
In what he calls the ‘New and Ancient Story of Interbeing’, we are all interconnected and interdependent. My wellbeing depends on everyone else’s, as well as on mother nature. By hating someone, I’m hurting myself. By being kind to someone or caring for the natural world, the whole system benefits. The whole universe is alive and conscious.
The financial and political systems in the UK and US have been built on the Story of Separation, and they are breaking down. It’s no one’s fault. There is no evil cabal making this happen; it is part of our evolution as a species.
Anti-Trumpers see the divide as being between stupid racist people and intelligent liberals. Maybe the real divide is between people who have lost faith in the system and those who haven’t.
I believe one of the best things we can do to aid this transition is to really stop and question ourselves whenever we realise that we are feeling hateful towards another individual or group. Are they really evil, or are they a decent human being, just like you, with a good heart, trying to make sense of this confusing world?